We have previously examined several occasions (such as the book of Job) where Satan’s hostility to mankind made him an unwilling agent of God’s divine providence in the lives of believers. In few cases has Satan’s desire to do harm to the godly ended up doing more harm to himself and his own kingdom than was in evidence on the last night of Jesus’ human existence. Twice Satan’s name comes up directly, and at other points his influence is clear, and in both cases Satan’s behavior ends up provoking a disastrous fate for himself. Let us look at these two cases and ponder Satan’s desire to kill Jesus Christ and why it backfired so spectacularly on him, and also ponder the repercussions of this story for the lives of believers. It is probably easier if we examine these two direct incidents one by one and then discuss the relevance and other possible cases where Satan’s hand is clearly in evidence.
First, Luke 22:1-6 discusses Satan’s possession of Judas with regards to betraying Christ: “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.” When John refers to Satan entering Judas, he is much more terse about that part of it, though it is part of a larger context discussed in John 13:18-30: ““I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.”
Let us note first that Luke and John give different occasions for Satan having entered Judas, but both give possessions in the context of Judas betraying Jesus Christ. The most obvious solution to this is to ponder the question of whether Satan’s possession of Judas was something that lasted continually from the time when Judas sought to betray Jesus for money or if, as is is more likely, that Satan’s possession was necessary for Judas to decide to betray Christ for money and then also necessary for him to take the step of going to the Jewish leaders and arranging the betrayal on the Mount of Olives as it happened. If it was necessary for Satan’s presence for Judas to betray Jesus, as appears to be the case from both the accounts of Luke and John, which underscores the severity of the betrayal, we are left with the question of why it was that Satan acted in such a way as to ensure his own destruction and the restoration of humanity to God’s good graces.
It was manifestly not in the best interests of Satan for Jesus Christ to be killed as a sacrifice for sin. Although it had been prophesied as early as Genesis 3 (see above discussion on this passage) that Satan would wound the Seed of the woman in the heel but that the Seed would crush Satan on the head and thus destroy him, this ancient prophecy required Satan’s own action to be fulfilled. The sins of mankind, past and present (and future), prevented mankind from entering into the Kingdom of God on our own efforts. For mankind to be saved, mankind had to be imputed righteousness that was not deserved by an act of grace, something that David realized as early as Psalms 32 and 51 (for example). This imputation ultimately depended on Jesus Christ serving as a perfect sacrifice, blameless and without fault, and it was precisely that sacrifice which Satan ensured by possessing Judas in order to ensure that the betrayal and arrest of Jesus and His execution took place. Satan’s kneejerk hostility to Jesus Christ and desire to harm the godly ended up creating the situation by which Jesus Christ died to wipe away the sins of believers. In few cases has mindless hostility backfired more spectacularly.
Let us now turn our attention to Satan’s request to sift out the disciples like wheat, discussed in Luke 22:31-34: “And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.”” Interestingly enough, this detail is not included in John 13:36-38 when Jesus discusses Peter’s upcoming denials: “Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.””
This passage reveals something deeply interesting about our spiritual lives that we may not always appreciate. The revelation to the disciples that Jesus had asked for permission to sift them like wheat and the fact that Jesus had prayed for their faith not to fail in the face of the trial that was about to come to them is a revelation that has some implications to our own lives. We may not know the cosmic stakes that are involved in the trials we face, since unlike the disciples and Job we do not have the Bible revealing the dares and requests that are made about our behavior. We know that we have Satan as an enemy, but we do not always know how personal that is, or if God has brought us to the attention of Satan or if, as was the case with the disciples, their nearness to Jesus was enough to make them an attractive target for Satan’s efforts at discouragement and hostility. Ultimately the disciples were able to overcome Satan’s efforts and, aside from Judas, were not defeated by Satan’s hostility. But without Luke 22:31-34 we would not have known that Satan specifically asked permission to trouble specific believers to attempt to thwart their walk with God as openly as we do.
It does not appear as if these two incidents are the only ones where Satan was involved. Indeed, the action of Luke 22 and John 13 is full of significant portents that Satan was deeply involved in making sure that Jesus Christ was put to death as the Passover lamb. It is quite likely that he was involved behind the scenes in motivating the hostility of Annas and Caiaphas and stiffening the backbone of the Jewish leadership to demand that Pilate put Jesus Christ to death despite being blameless and innocent. Yet, if one recognizes the crucifixion as the only way that mankind could be reconciled with God and have sins forgiven and wiped away, one wonders why it was that Satan showed such hostility to Jesus Christ in the first place. Again, it is ultimately not in the best interests of Satan to make sure that a way for redemption is open, but that is precisely what happened, and in a roundabout way we have Satan to thank at least a little for making sure that it happened as God had foreordained. Even the weakness of God is far stronger than either man or Satan, after all.